Cornie Huizenga: Every Subsector of Transport Needs to Be Part of the Climate Solution

Recently, I spoke with Cornie Huizenga, Secretary General of the Partnership for Sustainable Low Carbon Transport (SLoCaT) about a wide range of topics, including urbanization and the future of transport in cities, car bans as a response to congestion in megacities, what the Paris Agreement means for sustainable transport and other topics. Cornie is also part of the Paris Process on Mobility and Climate (PPMC) which last week released for public consultation a global roadmap on decarbonizing transport that anyone in transport, including fuels and vehicles should review and comment on. What follows are highlights from the interview. You can listen or download the podcast below or listen to it in ITunes.

On How SLoCaT Came About:

When we talk about SLoCaT, we need to go back about almost nine years to 2009. At that point in time, there were a number of organizations that were working on sustainable transport either at the city level or in some cases at the country level. And they came together and said it is strange that there is no global voice on sustainable transport. This became especially apparent at the climate change meetings. And they said that this is strange because transport is responsible for about a quarter of the energy related emissions in terms of climate change. But there were no real discussions, there were no events on transport, and that’s where discussion started amongst a number of organizations working on sustainable transport.


This discussion was picked up by the Asian Development Bank, which is one of the main international organizations funding transport projects in developing countries. Through that, we decided to come up with an initiative where organizations would start to work together. So, initially, this was very low key, and I was involved in it on a part time basis. And gradually, over the years, the message started to resound at the global policy level and more organizations joined. Currently, SLoCaT has about 90 different members.


The SLoCaT Foundation was established to support the work of the partnership. And the partnership has a very simple mandate, like how can we promote the integration of sustainable transport in global policies on sustainable development and climate change? And the exciting thing that has happened over the last two years is that we have seen a number of new international agreements, and that includes the sustainable development goals which were enacted in 2015. Over the last two years, we have seen seven international agreements all of which make a specific reference to transport, or where the transport sector would be required to make a contribution to make this agreements a success. That’s in a nutshell where SLoCaT came from.


Currently, we are in a situation that we have, at a global level that we’re starting to see an awareness that we need to change the development model, that we need to change also the way that we deal with the climate and we are in a situation that transport is now part of the solution. The emphasis that SLoCaT will have in the next couple of years is that we say, how do we move from advocating the importance of sustainable transport to advocating the implementation of sustainable transport? That will be the challenge that will keep us busy for the next couple of years.

On the Importance of the UN’s Habitat III Conference, Urbanization & the Future of the Auto Industry:

Transport is the sector which is mentioned most often. We saw that there was a wide range of policy recommendations divided over nine different areas ranging from land use planning, to road safety, to air quality, to congestion, etc., which were all included in the outcome documents. For us, this really sets the stage that if we talk about further urban development over the next 20 years, that we can somehow expect that transport and sustainable transport will be an important part of the solution in the future. This is important because, if we look at it, at the moment about half of the world’s population lives in cities. At the same time, we know that the urban population is going to increase. We know that over the next 35 years, up to 2050, we expect that there will be another 2.5 billion people living in cities. This is key. These are 2.5 billion people for whom transport needs to be created. The question is really, what kind of transport systems are we going to create for these new urban dwellers?


This is also where you can make a link to the auto industry. It’s clear that, I mention at the beginning, that transport is responsible for 25 percent of energy related greenhouse gases. It’s clear that if we do not take any action, that this percentage and that the amount of emissions will continue to grow. At the same time, we know that if we would want to implement the Paris Agreement, that pretty much by 2050 that transport would have to be decarbonized. The fact that we talking about moving towards zero also provides the answer to your question on the auto industry.


In the past, when we had relatively more mild targets in terms of greenhouse gas emission reduction, you could have a discussion on, should it be the energy sector, or the housing sector, or the transport sector which has to generate the reductions? Knowing that we need pretty much have to decarbonize the entire economy, the time of picking winners is gone. Pretty much every sector has to contribute.That also means that within the sector, that in the past you could say, okay we’re going to promote sustainable public transport or we’re promoting walking or cycling or we do another solution, but also within the transport sector it is clear that pretty much every subsector of the transport sector will have to contribute. That also means that the auto industry is going to change radically.

On the Paris Agreement and the Future of Transport:

The Paris Agreement was the beginning of a process. On the one hand it was an end point of a certain political process. At the same time, we are getting down to business and coming up with an increasingly set of more ambitious policies. What we see is that in the past climate change was an environmental agenda. Increasingly, what we’re starting to see is that climate change is no longer an environmental agenda but it’s becoming an economic agenda. I think that the energy sector, which is in some respects something that we look at as an example, that in several countries that renewable energy is competing at price with fossil fuel power. This is also something that people are starting to talk about now in the transport sector.


Initially, the discussion now is about diesel vehicles and electric vehicles, the expectation is that the tipping point will be in 2020, that electric vehicle will be cheaper in terms of purchasing than a diesel vehicle without any subsidies or incentives. Once we reach that situation, then there is no reason for a company, like Ford or Volkswagen, to actually produce diesel vehicles because there will be relatively limited demand for that then. We see that economics is actually starting to take over. That’s the process that we somehow need to facilitate and that we need to accelerate. On the one hand it is about electric vehicles and possibly a number of years down the road hydrogen and fuel cell vehicles, but at the same time the climate change agenda is not taking place in a vacuum.


You mentioned congestion repeatedly. Air pollution is an issue. There’s a whole range of other criteria that we need to take into consideration if we talk about the future of our transport systems. Bringing it back to the cities that you talked about, what I would say is really it’s about livable cities. It’s about prosperous, livable cities where it’s pleasant to live in and where it’s easy to do business and where it is efficient to do business. Cities with a high amount of private motorization, with a high amount of congestion, with a high amount of air pollution, etc., are not these types of cities. I think that this awareness together with the growing awareness on climate change is working. These two forces support each other in terms of making the cities more livable and to facilitate and scale up the deployment of sustainable transport in cities.

On the Future of Private Motorization:

I think, it’s like, yes I used to be a smoker in the past, 25 years ago. People would tell me that smoking was bad. I tried to stop a few times and it took me a few times before I really stopped. At the same time, you can see that some people continue to smoke. You could say that some cities are still smoking as well. There are some cities who feel that they can build their way out of congestion. Here in China, we had a very interesting comparison between Shanghai and Beijing. I mentioned that Shanghai put a vehicle quota in place in 1998. Beijing, at the capital, thought that they could build their way out of congestion.


We currently have six-ring roads around Beijing in order to provide place for the cars. That didn’t work. Then, they decided to subsidize public transport. That didn’t work. Then, they decided to come up with an odd-even scheme that people could only use their cars on certain days. That didn’t work. It was finally three or four years ago that Beijing said, ‘Look it’s not possible to deal with this number of cars.’ They also decided to adopt the Shanghai model with the vehicle quota. It is clear that vehicle quotas, that you need a certain political context for that to work.


If we look for example at Indian cities, it is clear that congestion is a very serious problem. Air pollution nowadays is more severe in Indian cities than in Chinese cities. On the one hand, we see that there are large investments in public transport in Indian cities, but at the same time there is still also a more or less unrestrained growth of private mobility. The problem is still getting worse. That is something where for those cities and the people living in the cities and the people making decisions there at some point will have to come to terms with the fact that it is not feasible to have unrestrained private motorization.